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House Bill 608 — Agricultural protection areas

House Bill 608 — Agricultural protection areas

Parrish Miller
February 23, 2024

Bill Description: House Bill 608 would require counties to create agricultural protection areas, along with commissions to oversee them, and to accept applications from landowners who would want their property to be designated an agricultural protection area.

Rating: 0

NOTE: House Bill 608 is similar to House Bill 473, introduced earlier this session. 

NOTE: The Senate Amendment to House Bill 608 is minor and does not change the rating or analysis.

Does it create, expand, or enlarge any agency, board, program, function, or activity of government? Conversely, does it eliminate or curtail the size or scope of government?

House Bill 608 would create Chapter 97, Title 67, Idaho Code, which would, among other things, require each board of county commissioners to establish an agricultural protection area ordinance" and "establish by resolution or ordinance an agricultural protection area commission." These things must be done by Jan. 1, 2025. 

The bill would define "agricultural protection area" as “specific parcels of land in a designated geographic area voluntarily created under the authority of this chapter for the purpose of protecting and preserving agricultural land.”

The bill would require that "agricultural protection areas" be "designated on future land use planning maps to serve as a voluntary and expeditious tool for working landowners while also informing planners, commissions, county officials, and citizens at large on how to proactively plan for agriculture."

Each "agricultural protection area commission" shall include "at least three (3) and no more than five (5) members actively employed by or supporting production agriculture in the county." These members' terms must be set by resolution or ordinance at no less than 3 years but no more than 6 years. 

These commissions will be tasked with reviewing applications to "include eligible land in an agricultural protection area and make recommendations to the board of county commissioners."

Requiring each county to establish a commission, establish a process for accepting applications, and process such applications is an expansion of government. 


Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?

While the process created by House Bill 608 is a bit convoluted, its intent appears to be to protect property rights. The legislative intent language for the Agricultural Protection Area Act says, in part, "Idaho deeply respects the property rights of individual landowners and seeks to minimize the government's control over a landowner's decisions regarding the use of his property."

Protecting property rights doesn't require new commissions or expanding government, though. This goal could be better served by simply prohibiting local governments from infringing on property rights through annexation, planning, zoning, and other regulatory efforts. 

House Bill 608 does contain certain provisions that appear to protect property rights for landowners who use their land for agricultural purposes and wish to lock in this purpose for at least 20 years. 

The bill says that if a landowner "desires to continue with the agricultural protection area" after the initial 20 years, "no action on the part of the landowner is necessary and the governing body shall automatically renew the agricultural protection area for another twenty (20) years."

Alternatively, if the landowner "desires to terminate the agricultural protection area, written notice to the applicable governing body is required at least ninety (90) days prior to the expiration of the agricultural protection area before the governing body terminates the designation."

A landowner would also be allowed to add land to an existing agricultural protection area "by filing a proposal with the applicable governing body."

One exception to the 20-year rule is that "an owner of land within an agricultural protection area may remove any or all of the land from the agricultural protection area by filing a petition for removal with the applicable governing body," but the removal date will be "ten (10) years from the date of petition for removal, or upon expiration of the designation, whichever is sooner."

The bill says, "A governing body that creates an agricultural protection area shall encourage the continuity, development, and viability of agricultural use within the specific boundaries designated in the agricultural protection area by not enacting a local law, ordinance, or regulation that would restrict a farm structure or farming practice, unless that farm structure or farming practice does not comply with generally recognized farming practices."

Not enacting "a local law, ordinance, or regulation" that infringes on property rights is the right thing to do, but unfortunately, this bill would only extend such protections to those whose land is in an agricultural protection area rather than to all property owners. 


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